Brad King said there was a good chance my story wouldn’t make it in the book during our last meeting. I’d received the previous edits to my story a month prior. Only incremental progress was made between those times.
My story is about a trip to Guinea, West Africa that I went on five years ago. Brad said the second biggest problem (after the fact I was just summarizing) was the story took place entirely in Guinea. I hoped I could get away with giving my life at home minimum exposure and that the summary of events I turned in would inherently have meaning to the reader. The notes on the first draft said that much more of the story needed to take place before leaving and afterward. The criticism/suggestion sounded so straightforward. Actually delving into my own mind to relive moments I was trying to avoid made me realize “straightforward” and “easy” could be mutually exclusive. I spent hours stuck in 2006, the year my story starts in, trying to find what would really matter to the story and to the reader. What I wrote was not acceptable to me as an actual draft.
Brad said during a critique he was giving of another Invictus writer that the parts of our stories that mattered most were the moments we want to skip over. Brad has said this countless times. This time I didn’t merely nod and say “OK” as I had each time before. I thought about the moment I had chosen for my story’s first scene. After walking through the scene in my head, I realized the moment didn’t show why the trip to Guinea was important for me. I knew, yet I needed to find the moment that encapsulated the “why”. I could find that moment if I examined what I felt before leaving on the trip in 2006.
I didn’t want to squander the chance to leave the U.S. for the first time in my life. After thinking about wasting time and trying to avoid regret, a conversation my father and I had years ago drifted into my mind.
I left Brad’s house and went straight to my apartment. Once inside, I sent my father an email. My entire story would need to be re-rewritten to accommodate this uncomfortable scene; writing this scene would be difficult even after knowing what I was to write about and if I felt apprehensive about including it, I would surely need to consult my father. Even after working up the courage to ask about it, I started with asking a tangential question.
“Hi Dad,” I wrote. “How old is our house? I just need to know a rough estimate.”
“You know I was just about to send you an e-mail,” he wrote back, minutes later. “I looked and I have 524 e-mails and then your’s popped up.”
I smiled, since my birthday is May 24 (5/24) and because the number meant my father still received a lot of spam. I sent another message.
“Is it all right if I write about conversations we’ve had?” I said. Once he asked what conversation I was talking about, then I would tel him, I thought to myself. I wasn’t looking forward to opening up old wounds.
The message came though right after my previous response. Whatever I wanted to write about was acceptable in my father’s eyes. My gratefulness was immeasurable and I was overwhelmed to the point I began to tear up. Just knowing (or being reminded) that my father was willing to help me without hesitation meant a lot to me. I tend to suppress my emotions since I become overwhelmed by them, like a Vulcan from “Star Trek”, so this moment made me cry.
My tears were a baptism on the keys; my story began anew. The story is no longer meant to be about the events that transpired in Guinea, nor is it about how different the West African country is from my home. The story’s about the space between the two, be it spatial, temporal or otherwise, and how I attempt to cope with that newly formed space.
When I sent the story to Brad, it was nowhere near where it needs to be and it still isn’t. I still don’t know whether my story will go into the Invictus II book. The story not making it in would be unfortunate, yet a process has taken place which I now realize truly matters above all else. The process is what always mattered: the space between A&B, the first draft and the last, between Guinea and home. If nothing else, the memories and emotions which long sat dormant (but also preserved) in my mind have been given context through being written about. What leaving, going on the trip and coming back meant is clearer to me now. From this modicum of realization, I can better understand why I and anyone else do what we do. Learning this took me five years and there’s still quite a bit I’m unclear about (I still can’t know whether what I took from all this is right).
Figuring the trip out only took five years. Maybe I’ll truly figure out what this project means five years down the line too.